For much of her first decade at Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg’s public stature grew alongside the size and influence of the company she helped run. As second-in-command to Facebook cofounder Mark Zuckerberg, she oversaw the massive growth of its core advertising business while positioning herself as an icon of corporate feminism.
When she joined Facebook as COO in 2008, she was the rare woman in the C-Suite of a tech company. Her book, “Lean In,” was released five years later, and it launched a movement of the same name to inspire a generation of women to speak up in the workplace and beyond. By 2016, Sandberg was viewed as a possible CEO candidate for Disney and was also said to be in consideration to serve as Treasury Secretary under Hillary Clinton.
But as Facebook’s reputation shifted after the 2016 presidential election, so did Sandberg’s. Facebook faced criticism for enabling the spread of misinformation and conspiracy theories that posed a threat to democratic institutions. It was hit by the massive Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal in 2018. And more recently, the company, now called Meta, came under fire from whistleblowers and lawmakers for allegedly putting profits over people, and ignoring its platforms’ apparent harms for young users. During that time, Sandberg and Zuckerberg were each called to testify before Congress and issued a number of public apologies.
Now, Sandberg is set to step down as COO this fall after a dizzying 14-year-run, with plans to focus on philanthropic efforts while remaining on the company’s board. But as she looks to her next act, she leaves behind a complicated legacy that partly mirrors the legacy of the organization itself.
In the hours after Sandberg announced her planned departure on Wednesday, she was praised by a number of prominent figures in tech and media. Venture capitalist Bill Gurley said Sandberg had “a simply unbelievable run” and noted “the vast majority of the $500B in market cap was built after she joined.” Media mogul Arianna Huffington called her a “champion of women.” And Fidji Simo, Instacart’s CEO and a former Facebook executive, said Sandberg “inspired so many of us to reach for more – and to do so unapologetically.”
Other industry watchers, however, stressed the negative impacts from Facebook that emerged during her watch and pointed the finger at her for not doing more to prevent them.
“Her decisions at Meta made social media platforms less safe for women, people of color, and even threatened the American electoral system,” Shaunna Thomas, the co-founder of UltraViolet, an advocacy group for gender equity, said in a statement. “Sandberg had the power to take action for fourteen years, yet consistently chose not to.”
Shoshana Zuboff, a professor emerita at Harvard Business School and author of several books on how technology is impacting society, told CNN that she believes Sandberg’s work in finding ways to monetize users’ personal data makes her “responsible for the wholesale destruction of privacy.”
Meta, Facebook’s parent company, declined to comment for this story beyond the public posts from Sandberg and Zuckerberg. In her post, Sandberg noted how much social media issues had changed from the time she joined the company.
The debate around social media has changed beyond recognition since those early days. To say it hasn’t always been easy is an understatement, she said. But it should be hard. The products we make have a huge impact, so we have the responsibility to build them in a way that protects privacy and keeps people safe.
I and the dedicated people of Meta have felt our responsibilities deeply, she added. I know that the extraordinary team at Meta will continue to work tirelessly to rise to these challenges and keep making our company and our community better. source: Reuters